Episode 62: When You Stumble Into the Underworld

This month, Roger and Mike revisit Fall of Magic, and take a long introductory look at GURPS.

We mentioned Fall of Magic, the Scroll Edition, Everway, The Mountain Witch, Lady Blackbird (not Snowbird), The Grognard Files, GCA Repository, Roger’s cheat sheet of damage types, Caravan to Ein Arris, the GURPS Fourth Edition Trait Sorter, The Belgariad, and the Pyramid Volume Three Index.

Music by Kevin MacLeod at incompetech.com.


GURPS was my Go To system for aeons. Designing a character to fit your own concept instead of some character class was a sheet joy, back in the 80s. (Recently I was lured away by systems which give out story points). However, I do intensely dislike the way they changed range penalties from 2nd ed (the range was based on the engineering and physics of the weapon you used) to 3rd/4th ed (the range penalty is the same no matter what weapon you use). It always seemed bonkers to me that a child’s peashooter, a longbow and a sniper rifle all had the same penalty to hit at 100 yards. Giving the weapons an accuracy bonus never seemed to quite make up for how nerfed some of them had become. I foolishly got rid of my 2nd ed rulebooks, so I no longer have the old style weapon stats… otherwise I’d still be using those stats.

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I think the idea is that, for the quick snapshot, they’re all as bad as each other for accuracy (and some of them may not have the range to hit that far away at all); but once you start actually aiming, the Acc stat makes their performance diverge a bit. But basically this doesn’t particularly rub me the wrong way, and if it does for you, fair enough.

Very much enjoyed the prima-to-GURPs discussion. Thank you very much for answering my request. I’m still not sure if the system would suit me as it seems that the balance is shifted towards ‘preparation’ rather than ‘play’. I’m a time-poor GM who doesn’t really have the time to construct the system as well as developing a scenario ahead of the session. That said, I’ve downloaded the lite rules you mentioned.

I know that you don’t do twitter, but there’s a good thread of discussion on there about the episode.


Well, GURPS isn’t a narrativist system - its default play style has a GM who creates adventures for the players to engage with. But I don’t think I’d say that the prep work is any more onerous than for RuneQuest or Traveller or any other system of that style.

One of the things I meant to come back to is that, if you want to, you can define NPCs very quickly: “key skill is 13, anything else is 10” is enough for someone in a gunfight, or the guy you’re going to negotiate with to get the key information. There’s absolutely no need to go through the whole character design sequence for NPCs. So once you’ve defined the campaign parameters the rest can be pretty easy.

And if you don’t want to define the campaign parameters either, then using one of the defined settings (Dungeon Fantasy, Action, etc.) will do that for you.

I never had any problem with the snapshot rule. I’m pretty sure that existed in 2nd ed as a -4 penalty. My complaint is that the range penalties are the same regardless of the optimum range the weapon is DESIGNED to be used over (e.g. a few feet for a peashooter, hundreds of yards for the sniper rifle). The built-in accuracy bonus only gave a typical sniper rifle zero penalty at some stupidly close range (say 30 yards) which you’d never choose to use one at. I guess I’ve just had too many characters where I needed to have a skill of 20 AND do all the aiming you could shake a stick at before they were remotely competent at hunting deer with their bow, or sniping at the enemy, or whatever I’d initially designed them to be. Then there was the famous time my mate Charlie failed to hit a passing train (with a paint grenade) because of speed/range penalties. The fact the train was 10 yards away and moving fast, utterly trumped the fact that it was 10 coaches long! The scale basically is ‘exponential’ which imposes penalties which are proportionally too high at trivial distances and trivial speeds.

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It did: you had a -4 penalty for shooting without aiming, which could be cancelled out by the +4 for point-blank range.

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Phil Masters asked on the old site:

How bling does sonething have to be to class as gamer bling? Because there’s some fairly fancy stuff come out for RPGs. Come to think of it, Everway may rate as a first attempt at creating roleplaying bling.

and I think that at least to relatively old gamers like us (who grew up with games in black-and-white and sometimes even in typescript - oh, how did we ever cope) the answer is “probably less bling that it needs to qualify for that title in real life”.

To me I think it’s an inessential component: metal dice, a custom-made gaming table, having your map on cloth rather than on paper.

With box sets kind of a thing of the past poster maps at all seem to be a form of gamer bling to me. The map of the YT-1300 freighter in the Edge of Empire beginner box was A key silly thing that sold me on it.

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It interested me that Michael finished on a note that GURPS began and continues as a system used for fantasy.

I liked what Roger said that a group does not just sit down to play GURPS they play a GURPS campaign of a particular game.

However those two items come together oddly for me that during undergraduate, playing GURPS by default meant a mondern game with some mix of investigation, conspiracy, and weirdness. Partly that was our GM friend who brought GURPS in with him but it makes me wonder how SJGames Pyramid magazine, men in black, and Illuminati card game marketing items have affected perception of the system. It certainly seemed like every GURPS afficianado I met had a copy of GURPS Illuminati prominent in the collection.

Of course SJGames is also the Munchkin card game and that’s never affected my perception of GURPS. It may be just the era of gaming in the late 90’s and an entirely personal association of GURPS with that style of campaign.

Thank you again for the discussion. All my experience has been with 3rd edition and I am certain to give 4th a closer look now.

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I don’t remember the exact numbers, but I think estimates have something like 90-95% of role-playing (maybe RPG sales?) being fantasy of the broadly dungeon-bash sort of flavour. (E.g. lots of different intelligent races both as monsters and as PCs, PCs can be much more powerful than normal people, etc.) So the sort of role-playing that mostly interests me is a tiny subset of the hobby as a whole.

Obviously you could play your dungeon bash with GURPS Dungeon Fantasy (or indeed the stand-alone Dungeon Fantasy RPG), but the reason I play GURPS is not for that (which it can do perfectly well, but so can lots of other games); it’s because it can support cross-world police and modern action heroes and space navies and conspiracy thrillers and all the other stuff. Given that I want to run and play in a bunch of different settings, my options are either to use very simple systems (which often don’t satisfy), or to focus on a single complex system that I only have to learn once.

But to people who’ve got into the hobby through D&D, or indeed through indie RPGs, there’s this idea that a particular game carries with it a particular setting. If you say “we’re playing Dragon Age”, it’s going to be dungeon-bashing fantasy. (You can say “We’re playing Dragon Age in Titansgrave” if it’s something else.) To say “we’re playing GURPS” doesn’t carry the same implications, but I think some people expect that it should.

(I’ve certainly found people saying “oh, yeah, the Munchkin guys” when I demonstrate other boardgames by SJGames, but this hasn’t been happened in role-playing. I suspect the two sides don’t blend as much as one might think.)

Here’s hoping your GURPS 101 entices some to try the system! It would be nice to have a follow-up (GURPS 201) sometime, dealing with how Mssrs Bell-West and Cule’s strategies to minimize GURPS prep time or to improvise effectively in what some believe to be a labor-intensive system. Roger does that just a tad in a reply to a previous post, when he talked about generating NPCs very quickly.

There’s a little of that coming up in tomorrow’s - today’s - episode. Something to think about for the future, I agree.